The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí was built in 1984, as a parade ground for the samba schools in the annual Rio Carnival; there are now ‘Sambadromes’ in several other Brazilian cities. Nearly a kilometre long, it was made by converting an existing street and adding bleachers along its length. One end is a large square, where the parades finish; this is now the ranking round and practice range. Immediately next to that is the finals field, where the magic will happen. This is walled off at two ends and much more enclosed than previous Olympic archery venues. A little theatre. I think it’s going to be noisy.
Unlike all the other Olympic venues in Rio, it’s resolutely urban, stuck in the middle of a working-class neighbourhood called Cidade Nova, currently crawling with police. Bounded to the north by an eight-lane highway, another long freeway runs right down one side, only about twenty yards from our press tent. All around are unclosed roads.
Past the arch, to the south, lie three large favelas, the oldest being Morro da Mineira. It’s an oddity that in most places in the world, the rich live up the top of the hill, with housing getting grander the higher you go. In many (but not all) parts of Rio it’s exactly the opposite.
It’s the only Olympic venue where you can see Rio’s most famous icon, the statue of Christ The Redeemer built in the 1930s, merely by looking up from the range – which should give succour to the several Catholics with a shot at an archery medal.
It’s difficult to say it’s a pretty place. It’s designed to come alive with colour and people and music; a neutral space. It’s a vast, monumentally brutal bit of concrete surrounded by more crumbling concrete, and much of it is in dire need of a paint job. When you hear it was made by Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, at first I thought, well, everyone has a bad day at the office.
Niemeyer is famous for many great buildings in Brazil, and one of his last in the 1990s was one of his most lauded, the MAC Contemporary Art Gallery in Niterói, a short ferry ride across the bay from central Rio. I went there last week:
I absolutely loved this landed-UFO-cum-Bond-villain-lair showing off on a short spit of land overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain, although it’s almost too outré for it’s own good. No-one visiting seemed bothered about the rather confusing exhibition currently on display. They’d come to see IT, not what was in it.
Niemeyer, who died in 2012, was famous for his curves – rather like another late Olympic architect, Zaha Hadid, who designed the aquatics centre for London. His most famous quote on the subject goes like this:
I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.
Which seems a bit at odds with the squared off, boxy concrete lines I’m currently spending all day, every day in. But once I started nosing around the Sambodromo, I finally started seeing a little of the architect’s vision; the detailing, the shaping and yep, the curves.
I think it’ll be a memorable outing – and I hope for all the right reasons. Our thing, our little corner, has the potential to be something very special, if the weather holds out and the soft winter sunshine makes the concrete glow.
I’m glad it’s here, in this defiantly real part of town, and not in some gleaming new arena that’s going to be broken up in a few weeks. It’s a spot with a bit of soul. Let’s watch what happens together.